Anne Aixe, Guest Contributor (Seattle, WA) –
Are you thinking of signing up for your first trail race? You’re not alone – the popularity of trail racing has risen dramatically in the last few years, and there’s no better time to try your first event. But before you hit the trail, make sure that you’re really ready.
We spoke to three race directors so you can have an idea of exactly what to expect from your first off-road race. Here’s what they had to say.
Go in prepared. If you’re a seasoned road racer, expect that you’ll be running for a longer period of time in your first trail race — and you’ll be running in remote areas. That means you should be well-stocked for the journey. Your best bet, according to Eric Bone of Northwest Trail Runs, is to be self-contained. “In a trail run, there can be significant distance between aid stations,” says Bone. “Carry a few snacks and a hydration pack or belt.”
Be aware. You may find yourself running on single-track trails for a majority of the race, so it’s important to be aware of other runners. “Don’t listen to music,” advises Evergreen Trail Runs owner Roger Michel.
“If you do listen to music, keep the volume on low or use just one ear bud.” Doing so will allow you to hear runners behind you who announce themselves when they want to pass. Run to the side when another runner wants to pass, and if you’re sharing the trail with runners who are going in the opposite direction, yield to the oncoming runner.
Don’t litter. Ever. During trail races, littering just isn’t done. “We believe in leaving no trace,” says Yumay Chang, co-owner of Evergreen Trail Runs, whose 2013 Lake Sammamish Half Marathon filled an entire trailer with glass and cardboard bound for the recycling plant. “Littering hurts the environment, and it hurts morale. Our volunteers pick up trash, but they also sort it between recycling and compost so we can leave the trails the way we found them.” So, don’t tear out of an aid station and toss your cup behind you and shove empty wrappers in your pocket. Remember that trail races are supported by volunteers who tirelessly scour the trails for trash after the event. Keep nature beautiful and make those volunteers’ jobs a little easier — don’t litter, and try to throw your trash in the properly labeled bin.
Disregard speed. Even if you crushed your PR on your last 10K road race, the same distance could take you double the time in a trail race. Why the lag? “It depends on the amount of climb (elevation gain) and technical (rugged or difficult footing) trails on the course,” says Eric Bone. “A 10-mile trail run can take as much physical work–and as much time–as a road half marathon.” To get an idea about how long a course will take to complete, Bone suggests taking a look at past results and comparing the runners’ trail times with their road times.
Remember that you can walk. Since you won’t be breaking any speed records, there’s no need to feel pressured to run the whole time. In fact, walking certain parts of the race can help you conserve your energy for later. “Even top trail runners are reduced to walking parts of courses,” says Eric Bone. “A full-stride walk up a hill can be more efficient than running when it gets steep. Plus, walking provides a helpful rest to let the muscles recover, prepare, and to get back up to speed as the trail levels out again.”
Have fun. This one goes without saying. Running through the woods, connecting with the natural world, and getting great exercise are just some of the components that make up the absolute blast that is trail racing. What else makes trail racing an exceptionally good time? According to race directors, it’s the trail runners themselves that make this a sport like no other. “Trail runners are known for their collegial spirit,” says Eric Bone. “Our racers take care of each other,” adds Chang. “It’s not all about PRs and results for them. They stop to cheer for people passing them, and they check on people who may be hurt.” For Chang, trail runners do what we all should be doing. “They know how to just get out there and have fun.”
Now that you’ve got the lowdown on the unwritten rules of trail running, get ready to join your first event. Check out Gametiime for trail races in Washington and Oregon. If you’re looking for something outside of Washington and Oregon, the American Trail Running Association is also a great resource to find a trail race near you. And don’t worry if you’ve still have questions come race day. “Trail runners love sharing their knowledge and experience with newbies,” says Eric Bone. “You’ll be doing both them and yourself a favor by asking them to share their wisdom.”
Have a great race!
Photo source: Yumay Chang, Evergreen Trail Runs
Anne Aixe | Guest Contributor | Anne spent 5 post-college years working as a teacher and editor in Verona, Italy before returning to the United States to pursue an M.A. in English Literature. On the long flight home from Europe, Anne read a little book known as Born to Run and was inspired to hit the ground running—literally—when the plane landed. Anne, who hadn’t exerted herself since a brief stint on the high school gymnastics team, is proof that anyone can be a runner. When she’s not writing web content for the outdoor industry, you’ll find her running the trails outside Seattle.
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